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Shareholders Shake Coke on Recycling Proposal

Hoping to make a dent in the more than 2 million bottles and cans Coca-Cola drinkers dump every hour, Coke shareholders and environmentalists are pressing the soft drink giant to adopt a comprehensive recycling strategy at its April 18 shareholders meeting.

Speaking at a press confernece in Atlanta Wednesday, Lewis Regenstein, a shareholder and co-sponsor of the recycling resolution (Proxy Proposal 5) explained that he supports the measure because wasting billions of empty Coke bottles and cans every year is a "national disgrace."

"I have been impressed by Coca-Cola Chairman Doug Daft's leadership in the past year on a variety of social and environmental concerns. It's time for Coke to become the recycling leader," Regenstein said.

The recycling proposals calls for Coca-Cola to meet two specific recycling goals by Jan. 1, 2005:
  1. Achieve an 80% national recycling rate.
  2. Use 25% recycled plastic in making new plastic bottles.
Sponsors of the shareholder resolution include: As You Sow Foundation (San Francisco) acting on behalf of the Educational Foundation of America; Walden Asset Management (Boston); Domini Social Investments (New York); Trillium Asset Management (Boston); and Atlanta shareholder Lewis Regenstein.

Bill Sheehan, national coordinator of the GrassRoots Recycling Network, put the resolution in a historical context:

"Four years ago this week, the GrassRoots Recycling Network launched our campaign here at the World of Coca-Cola. Today, more than 200 organizations, businesses, environmental leaders, student groups and local government officials support the campaign calling on Coke to take responsibility for the growing plastic bottle waste problem," Sheehan said.

According to Sheehan, 600 empty cans and bottles are are thrown away in the United States each second, on average. More than 54 million Coke soft drink bottles and cans become litter or get sent to landfills and incinerators every day, Sheehan said.

Bob Woodall, executive director of Waste Not Georgia and a Coke shareholder who lives in Atlanta, explained that Coke shareholders with approximately $50 million invested in the company are sending "a clear message" to the board of directors:

"Being a good corporate citizen means coming to grips with the growing waste problem," Woodall said.

Standing in front of a Wall Street Journal advertisement appealing for shareholder support of Proxy Proposal 5, Sheehan said, "We are determined to find a solution and hope that Cola-Cola will come forward with realistic approaches soon."

Beverage container waste increased more than 50% between 1992 and 1999, according to analysis of industry data by the Container Recycling Institute in Arlington, Va.

"Coke opposes the recycling resolution, but can't deny the problem. We support proven methods to increase recycling. Refundable deposits are being used in 10 states, which achieve an average 80% recycling rate. And Coke uses 25% recycled plastic in bottles sold in several countries, including Doug Daft's native Australia," said Pat Franklin, a Coke shareholder and executive director of the Container Recycling Institute.

"Coke knows the importance of setting goals for selling products. We see a need for the same kind of ambition and determination in pursuing recycling goals," Regenstein said.

For its part, Coca-Cola told GreenBiz that it had no comment on the pending resolution, but that the company follows all applicable environmental laws and regulations. A spokesman referred to the company's internal packaging policies and guidelines, which call for Coke to:
  • Display recycling symbol and messages "when and where appropriate."
  • Include appropriate anti-litter messages.
  • Avoid the use of CFCs in the manufacture and use of packaging components.
  • Avoid the use of heavy metals.
  • Avoid the use of PVC.
  • Ensure all plastic ring connectors are photodegradable.
  • Evaluate impact on existing recycling collection and processing systems for communities served.


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